Tournamatic was built with the goal of making tournament hosting an easier process for hosts and participants alike. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of assisting many inspirational and amazing organizations to host various tournaments in their communities. We want to shine a spotlight on some of these organizations as part of our new blog series featuring a Tournament Organizer of the Month. Our first feature post in this series is about Livin’ the Dream, a non-profit organization that used the Tournamatic platform to help host a fundraising volleyball tournament this November. With 10 teams participating, around 60 young people playing, and over 100 fans coming to watch throughout the day, the tournament helped raise money for Livin’ the Dream’s long-term goal of purchasing their own sports facility. “Our goal was to put on a great tournament that engaged the community and helped young people have fun in a positive environment.” -Louis, Livin’ the Dream

We had a chance to talk to Louis Diesel, tournament host, and the man organizing a lot of the behind the scenes action at Livin’ the Dream, to find out more about the organization.

What is Livin’ the Dream?

Livin’ the Dream is a non-profit organization based in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania in the United States. Established in memory of Mark Guensch, a young man who tragically lost his life in a drunk driving accident at just 19 years of age, the organization’s main efforts are focused on providing youth in the region with the support and space they need to thrive in what is often a tumultuous period of life. The organization’s goals center around providing good, clean fun for youth in the region. Active since 2014, Livin’ the Dream offers a space and activities for high schoolers and other young people where they can gather to meet new people, make new friends, and participate in safe and wholesome activities that combat the peer pressure adolescents often feel at this critical age in development. Driven by Christian values that encourage loving, valuing, and caring for one another, the organization also provides youth with a more approachable understanding of faith and moral values. Through short “Halftime Talks” from peers that volunteer with the organization, attendees at Livin’ the Dream events learn about scriptures and verses from the Bible that can be applied in useful ways to their everyday life.

Why Livin’ the Dream was founded

Adolescence is a difficult period of life for most people. The changes occurring within our bodies, as well as the changes occurring within our lives, are often difficult to process, especially when we lack the support to do so in a healthy and mature way. This is why many youth going through this period of their lives are susceptible to making poor choices, especially with regard to underage drinking and/or drug use, that can have detrimental lasting effects. In some cases, these poor choices can lead to terrible consequences, as was the case with Mark. After dealing with his tragic loss at such an early age in life, Mark’s parents wanted to come up with a way to remember him while also helping their other children and youth in their community understand the risks and avoid making similar mistakes. That’s precisely why the Guensch family established the Livin’ the Dream foundation. Matt, Mark’s brother, took on the role as Service Director and has established many of the ongoing partnerships with gyms, churches, and other facilities in the Lehigh Valley. Louis manages many of the administrative tasks and helps keep the organization running. Caden, Shelby, and many of the other volunteers involved with the foundation help run the programs and offer support, advice, and encouragement in the form of Halftime Talks and other engagement with participants and attendees. What does Livin’ the Dream do? Livin’ the Dream hosts weekly open gym nights for high schoolers and young adults, with activities like ping pong, tabletop and video games, football, soccer, dodgeball, volleyball, and basketball offered throughout the year. They also host occasional fundraising events, like their recent volleyball tournament, their ongoing Grace Campaign and outdoor music events to engage with more young people and make a bigger impact in the area.

By giving youth in the Lehigh Valley free access to a facility and the chance to develop strong, positive, and supportive relationships with other peers, as well as inspirational volunteer mentors, the aim of the organization is to encourage young people to connect, develop, and pursue their dreams in a positive and healthy way. The foundation’s main goal at the moment is to eventually purchase their own facility, opening up a community center that will provide free of charge activities for more students and youth in the area on a more frequent basis.

Livin’ the Dream programs

Currently, the foundation runs three regular programs at various locations in the Lehigh Valley. Their After Dark program aims to provide alternative activities to youth in the darker winter months, helping them stay out of trouble and encouraging them to make good decisions when faced with peer pressure and other temptations that many young people face today. Alongside the After Dark program, Livin’ the Dream also hosts Young Adult Volleyball in the winter (October through April). In the summer months (May through September), volleyball is replaced with pickup basketball sessions. After Dark regularly sees over 50 high schoolers attend a night, with 91 attendees being the program’s current record. Around 10 local high schools are usually represented, with students from across the region travelling to take part in the program. The After Dark program has steadily grown over the years and Louis says it’s particularly rewarding to see how kids that have participated in the past continue to come, developing, growing, and maturing as time goes by. Matt and Louis were able to attend a recent championship game between two local high schools and were pleased to see some of their regular After Dark attendees there. Coming to say “hi” and catching up with some of the young people that they’re used to seeing regularly, the two were especially proud to see these youth take initiative and really work towards making wiser decisions. In particular, Louis was happy to reconnect with an After Dark attendee that had just heard he’d been accepted into college. Louis says this is an especially rewarding part of his job at Livin’ the Dream — being able to help more youth pursue their dreams without the judgement and stress normally associated with high school dynamics and the peer pressure and poor decisions that often come along with that.

Connecting with youth

Because many of the employees and volunteers at Livin’ the Dream are younger (in college or recently graduated from postsecondary institutions), they are more easily able to connect with this younger generation. Offering good advice, posing poignant questions, and providing support and encouragement, volunteers and mentors assist in the development and growth of these adolescents in a positive manner. The organization’s Halftime Talks are offered throughout the Livin’ the Dream programs (and can be found on their app, available on Android and Apple platforms). These talks provide young people with advice and thought-provoking discussions around the choices they are making. Halftime Talks are rooted in Christian themes that trace back to a particular scripture for the week or a moral stance presented through a Bible verse. Lasting around 5 minutes, each Halftime Talk touches on the history of Livin’ the Dream, the purpose of the organization, the values inherent to it, and the reasons behind why the foundation exists. The goal here is not necessarily to preach to kids, but instead, it’s to get them thinking about life, their purpose, their dreams and goals, and how to work towards achieving those dreams. Livin’ the Dream particularly wants to engage with youth that are partying and participating in underage drinking and/or drug use, getting them to question these choices and to reevaluate why they are choosing these things. By working towards purchasing and opening their own facility, the organization wants to provide a regular athletic and social space for young people in the area to come have fun, feel safe, socialize, and make new friends and supportive connections. A big “thank you” to Livin’ the Dream for the work they do and a special thanks to Louis for taking the time to talk to us more about their organization and its goals! Look for our next Tournament Organizer of the Month feature post in December. — - “Tournamatic made hosting our volleyball tournament much easier. It was an awesome way to streamline the process of compiling the list of tournament participants, managing registration, and receiving payments.” -Louis Diesel, Livin’ the Dream

By Sonia Motisca